I wrote a column a ways back that infuriated a lot of Asians out there. Friends here in Sichuan said I had gone over the top and I apologized for what I thought was a pretty poor attempt to explain stereotypes in China.
I have thought about that column for a while now and I have come up with the key:
Chinese and Americans are the same.
Now people all over the world are the same from the get-go, but historical developments, geography, neighbors and so on bring out those juicy differences.
What makes Chinese and Americans so uniquely similar?
The answer: A special blend of two types of people, arrogant and ignorant and arrogant and educated.
This special combination allows for the creation of stereotypes that not only pigeonhole other people, but make them inferior in some way or another. At most equal. All cultures do this: the Germans make fun of the Poles, the English of the Irish, Indians of Bengalis and so on.
What both China and the U.S. have going on is a population of arrogant and educated elite that are able to solidify these stereotypes through their own actions and words. The scope and power of the elite depend on their continuing success, the more they succeed, the more arrogant the ignorant become. It’s a positive feedback chain of mutual backslapping and vicarious pride that is essential for the creation of a superpower mindset.
Now China and America are at different stages of superpowerdom, so the U.S. expresses its arrogance and perceived superiority by running around invading countries and setting up governments.
China is still sitting back and preening itself, acting as if superpower status is not a goal at all. China expects the mantle to be handed to them sometime in the future. The U.S. is scrambling around with the crown like the guy who has the ball in Smear the Queer.
Despite this difference in superpower maturity, certain strange coincidences pop up. Such as the stupid questions Americans and Chinese ask people from other countries:
“So ya’ll eat rotten cheese, right?”
“Can you people use chopsticks?”
Or the need to co-opt ideas:
“Ah yes, we Chinese were the first to ”
“Oh yeah, that’s American innovation for ya ”
Or the inability to admit when one is wrong:
“But you Westerners have very poor human rights records. And you were Imperialists!”
“They hate us because we’re free.”
I am arguing here that the superpower mindset is a mixture of chemicals in the brain that can be replicated and, unfortunately, has been replicated since the dawn of Rule. That we are unable to locate the elusive combination of chemicals that creates a sage-king mindset is just as unfortunate.